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World Music CD Reviews Jazz

Lionel Loueke

By Ernest Barteldes
Published June 6, 2008

Blue Note

Benin-born guitarist Lionel Loueke is one of only a few emerging jazz artists who can tell a personal story even when playing a tune written by a jazz heavyweight. A prime example is his refreshing take on John Coltrane’s classic ballad “Naima,” which begins with a lengthy percussive intro, and then evolves into something intensely individual that clearly comes from the heart and not from academia (which is where Loueke began his journey as a musician, first teaching himself in Benin and then enrolling at the Ivory Coast’s National Institute Of Art for four years of formal training). On the title track, Loueke’s vocals begin as a foundation for the bass line, gradually becoming the very heart and soul of the tune. The song glows with a strong Brazilian feel thanks to his guitar approach, which sets the tone for the other musicians, who play in a laid-back, breezy manner reminiscent of early bossa nova. Further on, the complex but beautiful “Benny’s Tune” stands out, constantly changing time signatures to stress its elegant melodic message.